Thursday, March 22, 2007

L'âme existe

The soul does exist. Despite the commonplace phenomenon whereby medical professionals ignore this question altogether or adopt some form of crude reductionism such as that tiredly and continually advanced by one of my professors, "all aspects of what we call personhood are derived from the activity of the neocortex," the soul does exist. (As an aside: the neocortex is a part of the brain associated with conscious functions, as opposed to more "primitive" actions like breathing, temperature regulation, etc.)

In class one day we took a survey which asked two questions. I pray that this is not representative of the wider medical community, but here you have it.

First question: "All aspects of personhood can be attributed to the activity of the cerebral cortex."
a) True
b) False
c) not sure

Over 50% of my classmates marked 'True.' Practically what this means is that people have either a grossly impoverished view of personhood or they are die hard materialists with a penchant for defining personhood functionally rather than formally (i.e. a human person is anyone who is born of human parents). This is not good. For the answer to the next question follows closely after the first.

Second question: "The definition of death should..."
a) only include the cessation of heart and lung function
b) be broadened to include inactivity of the neocortex (i.e. the so-called peristent-vegetative state)
c) not sure

70%. Yes you read that correctly, 70% of my fellow would-be doctors picked b) to my utter horrow and amazement. Still, I am confident not one of those 70% could adduce a meaningfully objective definition of death. That is, death is a the irreversible disintegration of the organism. Quite simple, that. Yet, beware for 70% of my classmates would be willing to harvest a person's organ's who was, like Terry Schiavo, in a peristent-vegetative state.

Note that answer b) is not one of the accepted definitions of "brain death," a subject which is still somewhat controversial even in the Catholic world. From my limited understanding, and I would defer to the Magisterium without a wink, brain death including irreversible loss of all brain function including the activity of the midbrain is a valid definition of death. Still there are those orthodox Catholic ethicists and physicians like Dr. Alan Shewmon, himself a pediatric neurologist, who oppose the use of the term and practice of declaring someone "brain dead." But I digress.

No, answer b) takes the extremely presumptuous view that people who do not appear to communicate (i.e. they cannot tell us whether or not they have any conscious activity or not) are in fact dead. This is merely euthanasia by another name. How do we know that these people are, in the experssed sentiments of Dr. Shewmon and William May, just in an "extremely locked-in state" whereby they are conscious but unable to express themselves consciously. The practical conclusions of such a state are horrifying. Just consider what it would be to be the patient in that situation.

This all comes down to the materialistic presuppositions of psychobiologists, who balk at even the suggestion that there might be something more to human persons than gray matter.

I do not have the time to elaborate further, but for the Catholic and indeed the entire history of Western thought, there exists a principal beyond matter, called the soul or mind, which is spiritual in nature and accounts for the uniquely human attributes of rationality and volition. This I maintain is the ultimate integrating and, pardon the pun, animating principle of the human body from which our embodied personhood ultimately derives. Anything less is crude materialism and incompatible with even the broadest religious understanding of the human person.

New IC column on the ends of medicine

Check out my latest column which only tangentially considers television doctors but really argues for a return to the medical profession's sacred obligation to heal and all that it entails.

IC Column I forgot to put up: De Nomina

More than just a name

By: Patrick Beeman

Posted: 2/22/07

I'm sitting at my computer hours before my wife and I head to the hospital for the birth of our baby boy. Medicine gives us the miraculous possibility of having at will, which is induced by administering Oxytocin, the hormone normally responsible for the process. I would tell you our son's name, but there is a problem: he doesn't have one yet. In fact, it is somewhat possible he will make his debut nameless, wandering about the world the first few days of his life nameless.

It's a familiar story admittedly. My daughter, Evangeline, (we call her Evvy) was simply known as "Baby Girl" for three days before a certain Agent Smith from the Bureau of Vital Statistics threatened me with imprisonment and a stint in Siberia unless I named the tiny miracle of a human being who captured my heart and continues to capture my time and love. The thing is, my wife and I can't agree on a name.

I see a person's name and the process which goes into deciding it as an incommunicably important event, into which should go much reflection, serious thought, and not a little prayer. Accordingly, I've done all three and more. Guided by what is indubitably the undeniable hand of Providence (kind of like Moses and the burning bush, but with shoes on and not quite as hot), I have been utterly convinced that I should name my son Augustine.


Saint Augustine was born in 354 A.D., the son of a certain well-to-do Roman named Patrick. See the connection? He is without question the single most important theologian and Christian philosopher that the West has ever seen (he beats Saint Thomas Aquinas only because he preceded him).

This goes for Christians and non-Christians alike; Augustine was the great theoretician of free will, grace, sacraments, authority, conversion, the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, the author of the first ever autobiography and my personal favorite saint. In naming my son Augustine, I would give him the gift of an erudite and unequivocal identity - and a patron by which to model his life.

He would stand out as an intellectual, contemplative Westerner and heir to the legacy of one of the greatest minds this world has ever known. And what is most important, to well-educated people and others familiar with the "Doctor Gratiae's" story, my son would be identifiable as a Catholic Christian, "solo nomine," to modify a Protestant theological principle.

This brings me to names in general.

When you name something, as Aristotle observed so long ago, you "say what it is." A name is a kind of definition whereby you state the essence of the thing named. In naming, you give someone an ideal to live up to, an identity, sometimes a patron, and a way of presenting himself to and being known by the world. Naming my son Augustine is like passing on the greatest things about Saint Augustine to him. And who knows how he might even improve on Saint Augustine's own work.

G.K. Chesterton observed, "The fascination of children lies in this: that with each of them all things are remade, and the universe is put again upon its trial. As we walk the streets and see below us those delightful bulbous heads, three times too big for the body, which mark these human mushrooms, we ought always primarily to remember that within every one of these heads there is a new universe, as new as it was on the seventh day of creation. In each of those orbs there is a new system of starts, new grass, new cities, as new sea."

In children, infinite possibilities exist, and it is the parents' task to nurture the efflorescence of these potentials in an appropriate and virtuous way within the context of unconditional love. After all, as John Paul II remarked that the family is the only institution on earth in which a person is loved for who he is (which, I would add, is revealed by his name) rather than for what he does.

One can see then, the name Augustine is important to me. While celebrities (even those from the great Hoth-like city of Toledo) name their children some awful things such as Suri, I would hope some of us choose our children's names for a purpose, not solely based on the name's popularity or sound but primarily and ultimately based on reason.
© Copyright 2007 Independent Collegian (

IC Column: Grey's Anatomy All that Medicine is Not

I've finally done it. After many failed attempts, I gave up "Grey's Anatomy." My unsuccess in ridding myself of this overtly-sexualized-version of the television show ER is certainly not for lack of trying. It's just that for the longest time, I felt compelled to watch because "all my friends do" or for "educational purposes." I am in medical school, after all.

Some of my colleagues might balk at such a justification, but deep down all of us know that some of what we learn in medical school is about as relevant to medicine as this week's "Grey's." Don't worry, future patients - we're smarter than medical school thinks we are.

At any rate, the event that precipitated my liberation was nothing less than "Grey's" itself. The fact is the show has become completely unbelievable. And, as Mark Twain observed, the difference between reality and fiction is that fiction must be absolutely believable. "Grey's Anatomy" is a patronizing travesty of to what I've dedicated my life. If "Grey's" represents the goal of all this, then the ridiculous amount of hours I lost to the Beast, affectionately known by the name Gross Anatomy, seems for naught.

Yes, yes I know. One must go into it with an open mind and not expect to view "real medicine." Granted.

No doubt, "real medicine" is too frightening, confusing and unbearable for the masses to handle. That's why not everyone is a doctor. The simple fact is, however, that television shows and pop culture images such as those in "Grey's" do a great disservice to the profession.

The problem is not with the glamorization of medicine, for idealizing anything necessarily involves gilding it with elements which are not natural to it. The problem is with its implicit, and sometimes explicit, presuppositions about the nature of the medical profession. The characters in "Grey's" are not in medicine for their patients, (or any higher good so far as I can see) but for themselves.

Nevertheless, in the real world, every single person who gets in to medical school rephrases and means the words "I want to help people" during their interview. Otherwise, they don't get in. This is because the profession values selflessness and does its best to admit into its hallowed ranks only those people who display a certain minimal measure of altruism.

An example: in one episode, an orthopedic resident excuses herself from an operation in order to be "with her boyfriend" who is having difficulty dealing with his father's mortality.


True, doctors are people too, but when a person has placed themselves in your hands, expecting you to take care of them, you leave personal feelings behind you and treat the patient despite your own anger, frustration, sadness, depression etc. If not, then you don't deserve to be in medicine.

Another example, or really a few examples:, is that each of the characters is involved in some kind of complex, ridiculous relationship headed nowhere, and no one seems to mind.

One day Meredith is sleeping with her married attending. The next she is sleeping with her fellow intern and then sleeping with a veterinarian. The various sexual-relations permutations are mind-boggling throughout the show. Besides, would you want someone with as much insecurity and emotional baggage as Meredith Grey to operate on you? No.

Just imagine the indecision and unconfidence on the operating table. "Should I make the incision? No. Maybe he really doesn't have internal bleeding, and the car that struck him was only going five mph. Does the anesthesiologist know what she's doing? I think my butt looks too big in these scrubs. Is that dashing medical student ogling me from the surgery gallery and …." Flatline sound.

A final example: Remember the Hippocratic Oath? Because I do. It says, "Whatever house I may visit, I will come for the benefit of the sick, remaining free of all intentional injustice, of all mischief and in particular of sexual relations with both female and male persons."

You just can't have sexual relations with patients. It's not right. But one character goes so far as to get "engaged" to a patient, and while he's being treated for heart problems to boot! Can you imagine the exploitation that would take place, if medical ethics were defined by "Grey's Anatomy?" It's a disturbing picture.

What scares me is that, while the show is presently unbelievable. What happens when tomorrow's doctors (my fellow students) make it believable? That is something I don't care to think about.
© Copyright 2007 Independent Collegian (

Thursday, March 08, 2007


So the baby was finally born. His name: Augustine Jerome. Thanks so much for all of your kind wishes and prayers. I've really enjoyed your comments and e-mails.

I've been hard at work and I must say I am overwhelmed. I have so many writing ideas floating around in my head but so little time to put them down on paper. I really enjoy medicine but medical school not so much. I had planned to do a ton of writing over spring break but more pressing matters (i.e. family) presented themselves. I mean if I don't change these diapers who will?

Admittedly, I have been cooking and baking a lot. I bought two cookbooks "Bread" and "Mediterranean" both of which have kept me busy. Tonight I tried to make falafel but that didn't quite turn out. Thankfully my Scottish morning rolls and Scottish oatcakes were a big hit. Who know the Scots would be so talented with grains?

I know some serious posts loom in the near future. For now checkout My recent column "Gunners" is a big hit!